The Dissapointment of Divorce

Five years have passed since the death of my parents’ marriage. There is no closure, no way to autopsy the past and emerge unscathed. I still watch couples in the grocery checkout aisle and wonder if they are happily married. On the bus, I scan hands for wedding rings. Commitment scares me. I see trust as a currency that marriage can’t keep economically viable. Marriage is a great monolith of American culture. It is a revered rite of passage so influential that the crumbling of my parents’ marriage didn’t feel like an isolated occurrence, but the forced recalibration of my American mind. It was the knowledge that divorce could happen to anyone, and that it could be as momentous to anyone as it was to me.

Anger and disappointment are like brother and sister. I resent the simplicity of life pre-divorce. One household, one schedule, and continual communication. I go to my father’s for dinner three times a week, hating not the minor logistical complication, but what it belies: separation of what was a family unit.

Post-divorce pattern finding feeds my own disillusionment. When my parents were married, I never treated what they had like something fragile. I didn’t hold my breath, like I was watching some feat, some tenuous combination of love and something else. Now, I feel their interactions acutely, as though I am taking notes on the nature of endings. I look at other marriages for the signs I didn’t see when my parents’ marriage was disintegrating. Cracks. I observe my friends parents - the time they spend together, the way they speak to one another. Trying to step back, or “be realistic” means making what feels like my parents failure an ordinary occurrence, one small part of a series in my mind.

Even within the marriage-free confines of my high school campus, I work to avoid disappointment. Gone is the idealism of teen relationships, the fun of dating people and “seeing where things lead.” I date a boy for a week, then look for the nearest exit. Long relationships seem terrifying; I don’t want things to end. I fear dating means being locked in, unhappy, and ultimately losing someone I care about. This is high school, the land of vast numbers of superficial flings with two-month expiration dates. I want relationships to become more meaningful later in life, as we become mature enough to fully partake in them. Of course, the emotional repercussions of my parents’ divorce have been far greater than those of any breakup I’ve witnessed or experienced thus far.

Beyond high school, is it marriage’s great promise that makes its termination most painful? Marriage could be a courageous undertaking in pursuit of a good kind of permanency. It could be my grandfather, who still buys my grandmother wool socks every Christmas. It could be my grandmother, who hikes with my grandfather and listens to his ramblings about fossils and rocks though they don’t really interest her. Unfortunately, I can’t reconcile my hopes for marriage with the still present aftermath of my parents’ divorce.




Risk, instability, ephemerality. These are the things I see in marriage. Marriage, portrayed as a Promised Land of which sepia photos are taken and sentimental movies made. Any set of ideals is full of expectations. Is not the fruit of expectation, disappointment? Yet people look for and find contentment in marriage. I know this.


Looking at my parents, I know that hurt clings ferociously, demanding that we shed our hope in its presence. There is cotton doubt pressed close to my skin. I’m wearing the pessimism that makes me feel queasy looking at wedding pictures. I’m wearing the hesitancy that makes me question the happiness of every married couple I see. For now, I feel naked without my cynicism, for it is a kind of protection against disappointment.





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